Microfluidic technology offers capabilities for the precise handling of small fluid volumes dispersed as droplets. To fully exploit this potential requires simultaneous generation of multiple size droplets. We demonstrate two methods for passively breaking larger drops into precisely controlled daughter drops using pressure-driven flow in simple microfluidic configurations: (i) a T junction and (ii) flow past isolated obstacles. We quantify conditions for breakup at a T junction and illustrate sequential breakup at T junctions for making small drops at high dispersed phase volume fractions.
SynopsisWe study the elasto-capillary self-thinning and ultimate breakup of three polystyrene-based ideal elastic fluids by measuring the evolution in the filament diameter as slender viscoelastic threads neck and eventually break. We examine the dependence of the transient diameter profile and the time to breakup on the molecular weight, and compare the observations with simple theories for breakup of slender viscoelastic filaments. The evolution of the transient diameter profile predicted by a multimode FENE-P model quantitatively matches the data provided the initial stresses in the filament are taken into account. Finally, we show how the transient uniaxial extensional viscosity of a dilute polymer solution can be estimated from the evolution in the diameter of the necking filament. The resulting ''apparent extensional viscosity'' profiles are compared with similar results obtained from a filament stretching rheometer. Both transient profiles approach the same value for the steady state extensional viscosity, which increases with molecular weight in agreement with the Rouse-Zimm theory. The apparent discrepancy in the growth rate of the two transient curves can be quantitatively explained by examining the effective stretch rate in each configuration. Filament thinning studies and filament stretching experiments thus form complementary experiments that lead to consistent measures of the transient extensional viscosity of a given test fluid.
A microfluidic flow-focusing device is used to explore the use of surfactant-mediated tipstreaming to synthesize micrometer-scale and smaller droplets. By controlling the surfactant bulk concentration of a soluble nonionic surfactant in the neighborhood of the critical micelle concentration, along with the capillary number and the ratio of the internal and external flow rates, we observe several distinct modes of droplet breakup. For the most part, droplet breakup in microfluidic devices results in highly monodisperse droplets in the range of tens of micrometers in size. However, we observe a new mode of breakup called "thread formation" that resembles tipstreaming and yields tiny droplets in the range of a few micrometers in size or smaller. In this work, we characterize the growth of the thread and its maximum length as a function of flow variables and surfactant content, and we also characterize the period of droplet breakup as a function of these variables. Our results suggest possible methods for controlling the process. Using a simple flow visualization experiment as the basis, we report on preliminary efforts to model the thread formation process.
An experimental study of droplet breakup in T-shaped microfluidic junctions is presented in which the capillary number and flow rate ratio are varied over a wide range for several different viscosity ratios and several different ratios of the inlet channel widths. The range of conditions corresponds to the region in which both the squeezing pressure that arises when the emerging interface obstructs the channel and the viscous shear stress on the emerging interface strongly influence the process. In this regime, the droplet volume depends on the capillary number, the flow rate ratio, and the ratio of inlet channel widths, which controls the degree of confinement of the droplets. The viscosity ratio influences the droplet volume only when the viscosities are similar. When there is a large viscosity contrast in which the dispersed-phase liquid is at least 50 times smaller than the continuous-phase liquid, the resulting size is independent of the viscosity ratio and no transition to a purely squeezing regime appears. In this case, both the droplet volume and the droplet production frequency obey power-law behavior with the capillary number, consistent with expectations based on mass conservation of the dispersed-phase liquid. Finally, scaling arguments are presented that result in predicted droplet volumes that depend on the capillary number, flow rate ratio, and width ratio in a qualitatively similar way to that observed in experiments.
Precise, tunable emulsions and foams produced in microfluidic geometries have found wide application in biochemical analysis and materials synthesis and characterization. Superb control of the volume, uniformity, and generation rate of droplets and bubbles arises from unique features of the microscale behavior of fluid interfaces. Fluid interfaces confined within microfluidic channels behave quite differently than their counterparts in unbounded flows. Confinement inhibits capillary instabilities so that breakup occurs by largely quasi-static mechanisms. The three-dimensional flow near confined interfaces in rectangular geometries and feedback effects from resistance changes in the entire microfluidic network play important roles in regulating the interfacial deformation. Timescales for transport of surfactants and particles to interfaces compete with flow timescales at the microscale, providing further opportunity for tuning the interfacial coverage and properties of individual droplets and bubbles.
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